Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More Trouble For Saiga

This is a saiga mother and its calf. The creature represents a trail mix of the natural world: the body of a deer, the head of a camel, and Gerard Depardieu's nose. They stand just under two feet at the shoulder and weigh less than 50 pounds. The function of their unusual nose is not certain, but it may serve to warm or filter air during frigid winters and vicious dust storms.

Saiga once lived in Alaska and Yukon, but vanished in North America when the last ice age ended. Their numbers have fallen 95% from an estimated 1 million animals 20 years ago. Now they only live on the isolated steppes of Central Asia, and are endangered due to over hunting.

The trouble doesn't stop for this hard-featured creature. According to a study that appears in a recent issue of The Open Conservation Biology Journal, their migration routes are in a jeopardy as well. The study tracked the animals via GPS collars in Mongolia and uncovered an extremely narrow corridor of habitat that connects two populations. This 'migration bottleneck' spans just over 4 km, and is threatened by herders with livestock, along with increased traffic from motor vehicles. According to Dr. Joel Berger, the Mongolian government has expressed interest in protecting the bottleneck.

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